Something Wicked This Way Comes

Here’s an opening much darker than anything I’ve attempted. The story is entitled the Lazarus Men and will be a cross between sci fi and film noir of the 40s and 50s. Enjoy.

 

PROLOGUE

“Once you agree to this you can never go back. Your life will change forever,” Mr. Shine stood with his thin hands clasped behind his back.

Carter Gaetis paused to glance to the odd man standing at his right shoulder. Grave doubts plagued him. It had been months and he still didn’t wholly trust Mr. Shine. Several qualities making him human were missing in Carter’s opinion. Shine was tall, lightly built and possessed a permanent sneer. His pale complexion and dark hair lent a cadaverous appeal Carter found acutely disturbing. The perpetual rasp in his voice was due to an injury sustained in the line of fire long before Carter was born.

Mr. Shine continued, “Are you prepared to commit yourself, your life and your dedication, to our cause, Mr. Gaetis?”

Carter tensed. He was torn. Born to believe there was no escaping the past, Carter spent years languishing under the effects of being convicted of murder in a court of law. Penniless. Branded a villain by the rigid constrictors of society, he contemplated suicide. Darkness crept into all corners of his life but: his wife and daughter.

“Once you say the word all of your pain will be erased. Your debts to society will be paid in full and you will be free.”

For a price. Nothing comes without a price. The real question is am I willing to pay it so blindly? There must be another way.

But there wasn’t. All of his options were exhausted. Mr. Shine offered him an escape but the cost, the cost threatened the security of his very soul. Carter wasn’t a violent man. He’d tried to live a good life, to matter in the eyes of god and his peers. A drunken moment of indecision stripped it all away and brought him to this point. He clenched his jaw, teeth grinding.

Mr. Shine, for his part, had done this a hundred times before. Each was unique but the candidates all acted similarly. He’d come to the quaint apartment hab expecting Carter’s indecisiveness. After all, it was no easy thing to accept the forceful removal of one’s past life without grave concerns. He rolled the stiffness from his right shoulder and viewed the street. The sleepy village along the Hudson River would have gone unnoticed if not for human expansionism. Linking Canada to old New York City via the major train hubs, the Hudson River resumed the prominence it once held during the colonization of the New World some six hundred years earlier.

Shine inhaled the early autumn smells of changing foliage and the dampness of the river. He briefly considered retiring to this part of the world before chastising himself. There was no way a man like Shine could ever retire in any fashion save one: an assassin’s kiss. He exhaled mild disappointment. This forgotten stretch of the world was one of the few peaceful places he’d ever been.

Carter finally asked, “Will they suffer?”

Mr. Shine smiled in the dark. “No. Their part in this sad tale will finally be over. They will be free, Mr. Gaetis, much as you will be.”

Carter sighed. He wished there was another way. Anything but this. Sadly there wasn’t. He was as much a victim of circumstance as his family. With grave reluctance, Carter nodded curtly. There was no other option.

“Please Mr. Gaetis, I need to hear you say it,” Shine insisted. His eyes seemed to glow wickedly in the dark.

“Yes, Mr. Shine. I accept your offer.”

His words lacked the conviction with which they were meant. Carter was a strong man but even the severity of the moment left him weak in more ways than he was willing to admit to any man, especially Shine. He didn’t like the thinner man at all. Carter imagined there’d come a time for reckoning before the end. He had to wait until that day.

Shine nodded back and clapped his hands in front of his waist twice. “Good! I knew you’d make the logical decision. Very smart of you, Mr. Gaetis. Now, if you’d please follow me inside we can conclude tonight’s business and be about our business.”

“You can’t be serious!” Carter all but exploded. Making the decision was one matter, having to participate entirely another. He was prepared to endure the endless stream of nightmares from what came next. No man should.

Mr. Shine fixed him with a withering glare. “Oh but I am. This is not a game, Carter. The only way I can be assured of your commitment is by having you participate. Anything less is inexcusable. Our employers demand unconditional obedience.” He paused, letting Carter stew. “Perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps you are not the proper candidate for this position. Good night, Mr. Gaetis. I wish you the best of fortune in the future.”

He’d never know what spurred the following words, but Carter grasped at the tiny rope Mr. Shine dangled before him without pause. “No, wait. I’ll do it. It’s just going to be…”

“Hard? I understand. We have all gone through similar.” Shine pat him gently on the back. “Consider it being part of a brotherhood.”

Pulling the lapels of his black, trench coat tighter around his neck to keep the harsh wind coming off of the river from creeping down his back, Shine started across the street.

 

Mr. Shine peeled the stained, leather gloves off and tossed them down on the flower pattern comforter. He wasn’t smiling, but lacked the seriousness Carter expected after murdering two people in their sleep. Instead he wore a look of grim satisfaction that only a man trapped in such a profession could produce. And professional he was. Only a single speck of blood escaped the bed, landing squarely on his right cheek. He looked down to where Carter had collapsed in a pile of vomit and tears.

“It’s done, Mr. Gaetis,” he announced quietly. “As far as anyone knows you and your family died here tonight in a regrettable gas fire. Welcome to the Lazarus Men.”

The apartment hab exploded in flames as Mr. Shine and Carter strolled back across the street to the waiting hover car.

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